Thus ended a riveting, absorbing and controversial night at the Vicente Calderón Stadium which left Barcelona stunned and shell-shocked as they got dumped out the Champions League by a defensive masterclass from Atletico Madrid. Not a single soul, even the ardent Barca fans, can’t deny that Atletico deserved their place in the semi-finals after outfighting, outclassing and out-battling the Catalan club for most of the night.
Here are five things we observed as Atletico Madrid defeated Barcelona 2-0 in the second leg to claim their deserved spot in the semifinals, 3-2 on aggregate:
1. Simeone outwits Luis Enrique
Two of the toughest midfielders from their playing days, both Diego Simeone and Luis Enrique knew the game was all about winning. While victory stayed with the Spaniard in all the seven times they clashed before tonight, Simeone emerged the winner in their most important meeting so far.
The Argentine ditched the adventurous 4-3-3 formation from the first leg to return to his favoured 4-4-2 formation that featured an extra midfielder in Augusto Fernández alongside Gabi, Koke and Saúl. The energetic four-men midfield formed an extra layer of protection to the defence whilst consistently hassling and harrying Iniesta and Ivan Rakitić to deny them any opportunity to supply the Barca forward line of Messi, Neymar and Suárez.
Diego Simeone and Atletico Madrid are one step closer to the Champions League Holy Grail. ?⚪️ pic.twitter.com/lMO1H1X2Fs— Bleacher Report UK (@br_uk) April 13, 2016
This meant the game settled exactly into what Simeone expected. Barcelona enjoying most of the possession but unable to penetrate the solid Atleti defence. Simeone’s men sat tight waiting for an opportune moment to counter, just like the late surge from Filipe Luis which ended in a penalty after Andres Iniesta committed a handball in the area.
2. Barcelona’s wobble is serious
What initially perceived as just a hiccup for Barca is soon becoming into a serious muddle. They’ve won just one of their last five matches, the only victory being the one against Atletico in first leg where they were outplayed for most of the first half. Out of Champions League and sitting just three points ahead of Atletico in the La Liga table, it is time to accept and ponder why Barca are losing their momentum at the worst time possible.
The RTÉ football panel discuss the recent poor form of Barcelona star Leo Messihttps://t.co/jjYwGfxlbU— RTÉ Sport (@RTEsport) April 13, 2016
Though they played relatively better in second half, it wasn’t the Barcelona we came to know this season. Their passes are going stray, the first touches are often horrible with players needing two or more touches to bring it to control and even they get it under control they are troubling to choose what to do with the ball.
3. The 500th goal eludes Messi
It may seem harsh to castigate Messi for Barca’s miseries, but the five-time Ballon d’Or was far from his usual self as he continue his worst run for the Catalan side in six years. The 28-year old hasn’t scored for his club since the game against Arsenal on March 16, which makes 452 minutes gone without a goal for the Argentine who is just one goal short of taking his career tally to 500 goals.
It has been 450 minutes since Lionel Messi last scored for Barcelona. pic.twitter.com/rOkRWe3xzg— TheSPORTbible (@TSBible) April 14, 2016
4. Griezmann, the difference between two sides
Man of the match, the difference between the two sides, the hero Atletico needed. The Frenchman had a decent scoring record against Barcelona during his tenure at the former club Real Sociedad, but had failed to find the Barca net ever since his €35 million transfer to Atletico in 2014. The 24-year old though chose to end that goal-drought when his team needed him the most, scoring a brace to send Atletico into the semi-finals of the Europe’s biggest competition.
5. The Brilliant Atletico Fans
Flares, flags, shouts and songs, Atletico fans did everything they can to inspire their side to make the historic come-back that happened at the Vicente Calderón Stadium. The slogan that hung from bridges and balconies all over Madrid read “Never stop believing” and the fans never stopped believing, even when the pressure built up towards the end.